“Arrival” and the Unconscious

In the movie Arrival, twelve space crafts are positioned by an alien race over different countries of the world. The reason for their presence is a mystery. However, every 18 hours they allow a human research/diplomacy team to enter each craft and interact with the alien beings. The aliens communicate using a language of smoke-ring images whose complex forms serve as words. Baffled by their unfamiliar language, and uncertain of their intentions, each country sends a linguist to try and communicate with the aliens.

As you can imagine, deciphering this new language was a slow and laborious process. The respective governments became increasingly impatient with their linguist teams. Not only were the governments and their people suspicious and fearful of the aliens’ intentions, they became increasingly suspicious and fearful of each other. Each feared the other might form an alliance with the aliens and then use their technology or assistance to take over their own country. Despite the pleadings of the linguist teams for more time to understand the aliens’ language, fear and paranoia started to prevail and aggression towards the alien visitors seemed imminent.

There is much more to the story than what I have presented here. I have shared this much, however, because I find this aspect of the movie to be very instructive regarding the way we often relate to the unconscious.

An alien is an excellent symbol of a messenger from the unconscious. It is like a dream, a symptom, or a synchronicity in your outer life, that poses an unexpected perspective, dilemma, or opportunity. You are given information or are presented with a question that baffles and intrigues. Sometimes you are like the government or people of each country—curious, apprehensive, or confused by this intrusion, this mysterious entity that is your unconscious. Like the aliens, your dreams and the puzzling events, symptoms, and patterns in your life can be very perplexing. They stand before you requiring attention, inviting relationship and dialogue. They may trouble you, break your routine, shatter your assumptions and turn your world upside down. You may try to ignore the presence and reality of the unconscious, deny its existence, relevance, import and impact upon your life. But still, there it stands, like a spaceship floating in your backyard.

We want answers; we want solutions; we want clear messages and an accounting. But most of all, like the governments in the movie, we tend to want these things now. We want the unconscious and life to speak our language, to answer our questions, to do and behave as we feel they should. We may turn to a psychologist or counselor for help, to act as a translator between ourselves and the unconscious, but if the answers don’t come soon enough, if the process of understanding and dialogue takes too long, we often pursue the more expedient and convenient solutions mainstream society has to offer. We grasp for the latest “tools,” techniques, or pharmaceuticals that promise to rapidly and painlessly take away our ills. If the psyche and life doesn’t behave as we think it should, if we find it too hard to learn its language, we imagine that we will make it speak ours.

But there is a price you pay when you do this, when you become impatient and demanding and insist on resolution now, unwilling to learn the language or be humble before the teacher that is your unconscious. The language of the unconscious and the soul is injured and robbed of its power when ignored, denied, or crammed into a view of reality that is too small for it. You take a pass on the opportunity for a higher perspective, the opportunity to embrace and learn from a higher wisdom. A transformative encounter, a widening of your consciousness and sense of self is sadly declined.

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